Arab News: Lebanon’s economic collapse means that the Lebanese people are now responsible for sourcing their own electricity for most of the day, every day. Many of them are now turning to solar power — previously seen as a luxury — as a solution.
Lebanese citizens do, at least, have some experience with securing their own power: For the past 40 years, the country’s patchy electricity supply has meant that 24-hour power was almost impossible to come by, so the majority of Lebanese are familiar with having to use private generators to access electricity during the country’s frequent power cuts.
Plans on which billions of dollars were spent were largely ruined by political disputes and, despite the warnings of the international community, the Ministry of Energy took no action to rectify the situation.
According to Bassam Mawlawi, minister of interior in Lebanon’s caretaker government, the ministry had to pay $160,000 to secure electricity for the parliamentary elections that took place last month.
Lebanon has been regularly plunged into darkness recently because of skyrocketing fuel prices resulting from the increase in the dollar exchange rate. The situation was exacerbated when the Lebanese state began to remove fuel subsidies and international fuel prices rose because of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Along with an increase in network failures, infrastructure theft has only made things worse.
Considering Lebanon’s long history of power outages, it is perhaps surprising that many Lebanese are only now beginning to view solar power as an ideal solution to their energy issues.
Travel around Beirut, the surrounding mountains and the Bekaa valley, and you will now see solar panels on many rooftops and balconies — even though the internal security forces have repeatedly warned against setting up solar panels without an agreement between building residents, in an attempt to limit disputes.
But since solar energy allows people to be self-sufficient and spares them the costs of private generators — the fees for which can be prohibitively expensive since there is no real oversight of the industry — those warnings are falling on deaf ears.
Hassan, a resident in Beirut’s southern suburbs, said, “A private generator subscription of 10 amperes amounts to 9 million Lebanese pounds per month — a figure that only the affluent can afford.”
The output from solar panels varies, starting at five amperes for a one-off payment of between $2,000 and $2,500. The cost rises as the output increases and can reach around $5,000.
Hassan said that, thanks to solar power, he is now able to power his lighting, fridge, fan and washing machine. “However,” he added, “the air conditioner is now part of the home décor, unless the state provides us with half an hour of power.”
Many shops in Beirut are now selling solar-powered fans and lightbulbs for under $100. Ahmad, who owns a shop in Beirut’s Cornish El-Mazraa, said his stock of such items is usually sold within two days, “although the price of one fan reaches $80.”
“The sales volume exceeded all expectations,” he said. “This fan, once fully charged, works for about four hours at medium speed.”
Attorney Saleh Sleiman told Arab News that around 70 percent of the residents in his hometown — Bednayel, in Bekaa — now rely on solar energy. “Some people borrowed money to cover the cost of installing panels. Others used gold as collateral to secure a loan,” he said.
The Housing Bank has launched a ‘solar energy loan,’ ranging from 75 million to 200 million Lebanese pounds, which can be repaid over five years with an interest rate of five percent. Hezbollah has also provided people with loans through the US-sanctioned Al-Qard Al-Hasan Association.
Lebanese banks, however, have so far provided few initiatives to help people during the energy crisis.